From Mel Gibson as the Caped Crusader to the Bat-Nipples That (Briefly) Killed the Franchise: Inside 30 Years of Batman Films

It's been three decades since Tim Burton brought Gotham City to life on-screen for the first time.

By Billy Nilles Jun 23, 2019 12:00 PMTags
Batman, Michael Keaton, 1989Warner Bros. Pictures

Holy anniversary, Batman!

It's been 30 years since director Tim Burton teamed up with Warner Brothers to bring the Caped Crusader, who had previously brought to camp-tastic life on television in the '60s with Adam West in the titular role, to the big screen with 1989's Batman. That film's winning combo of Michael Keaton rocking the iconic bat cowl, Jack Nicholson in the first of two legendary cinematic portrayals of villain The Joker, and a killer soundtrack from none other than Prince himself kick-started a franchise that's seen more twist and turns, deaths and re-births, casting changes and shifts in tone than any other. 

And just when you think the character might be down for the count, as it appeared when Ben Affleck, the latest actor to bring the Dark Knight to life, walked away from the role after his second outing, Justice League, there's the confirmation that Robert Pattinson is next in line to put on the cape for the once-thought dead The Batman.

And as you'll see in our list of the 30 most fascinating facts and surprising secrets about the first three decades of Batman films, if there's one thing Pattinson can take solace in among the fan outcry over his proposed involvement, it's that no man who's come before him in this franchise has been immune to it. Not even the OG, Keaton.

Read on to see what we mean!

Batman, 1989

1. When Michael Keaton was cast as the first Caped Crusader, his casting was not well-received by comic book fans, kicking off a reactionary trend that persists to this day whenever a new superhero casting is announced. Warner Brothers received 50,000 letters from fans complaining about the decision. Would Tim Burton's first choice for the role have fared any better? Mel Gibson was forced to turn down the role due to his commitment with Lethal Weapon 2

2. After Jack Nicholson rejected Burton and WB's initial offer of The Joker, Robin Williams was contacted about the role. However, his interest was only used as bait to lure Nicholson into accepting the offer, a play that upset the comedy legend so much, he turned down The Riddler years later and refused to work with WB until they apologized to him.

3. Keaton couldn't hear anything when he was in the Batsuit. He later admitted that the claustrophobia caused by the costume was useful to tap into the proper mood needed to tap into the character. "It made me go inward and that's how I wanted the character to be anyway, to be withdrawn," he said.

4. After Kim Basinger's schedule precluded her from initially accepting the role of Vicki Vale, it went to actress Sean Young. Unfortunately, a horse-riding accident while practicing for a scene set on the ground of Wayne Manor left her with a broken collarbone and she was forced to drop out. Basinger received an emergency call one week prior to the start of filming and accepted.

Batman Retuns, 1992

5. According to Kiefer Sutherland, he was approached for the role of Robin in the first film when he was 19 and he turned Warner Brothers down. "I was like, 'As in Robin with tights? No!' I didn't realize they were going to make the coolest movie ever," he told On the Box in 2012. "They didn't have a Robin in the end, but I was only 19 so my agent could have helped me out a bit on that one."

6. Danny DeVito, who stayed in character between takes while on set of Batman Returns, refused a stand-in for the scene in the film when an angry mob pelted The Penguin with rotten food.

7. Dustin Hoffman was Burton's first choice for The Penguin, but he declined.

8. Annette Bening had been cast as Catwoman in the film, but was replaced by Michelle Pheiffer when she got pregnant. Other actresses reportedly considered for the role included Cher, Brooke Shields, Susan Sarandon and Meryl Streep, whom Burton believed was "too old" for the role.

Batman Forever, 1995

9. Warner Bros. wanted a lighter tone for Batman Forever, so they pushed Burton into the role of producer only and brought in Joel Schumacher to direct. This decision prompted Keaton to walk from the franchise, rejecting a reported $15 million payday.

10. Ethan Hawke turned down the opportunity to step into the Batsuit, leaving Schumacher to consider Daniel Day-Lewis, Ralph Fiennes, William Baldwin and Johnny Depp as the new Bruce Wayne before Val Kilmer accepted the role without seeing a script or hearing who the director was.

11. Marlon Wayans was considered for the role of Robin in Batman Returns before the character was omitted from the film. He formally signed on to play the role on Batman Forever, but when Warner Bros. changed the director on the film, Schumacher wanted to go in a different direction and replaced him with Chris O'Donnell. Because of this, Wayans was paid out by the studio and still receives some royalty pay to this day.

12. Despite Billy Dee Williams playing Harvey Dent in Batman, WB and Schumacher recast the role with Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever. While Williams had never formally signed on for Forever, his initial contract allowed the option of reprise, forcing the studio to pay him a penalty fee.

Batman & Robin, 1997

13. When Kilmer signed on, Schumacher decided that Rene Russo, who'd been cast as Dr. Chase Meridian already, was too old to play opposite him and released her from the film, paving the way for Nicole Kidman to receive the part.

14. According to Schumacher, Michael Jackson lobbied heavily for the part of The Riddler, which eventually went to Jim Carrey.

15. Jones and Carrey were so incompatible on the set of Batman Forever and worked so poorly together that Schumacher swore he'd ever work with either actor again. He, of course, changed his tune a bit when he cast Carrey in his 2007 film, The Number 23.

16. Before O'Donnell was cast as Robin, Leonardo DiCaprio took a meeting with Schumacher about the role, which was enough for him to turn the part down.

Batman Begins, 2005

17. It was Schumacher who famously added nipples and codpieces to the Batman and Robin costumes for both Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, as well as giving Robin an earring. He explained of the former that he wanted the costumes to be anatomically correct, while also basing them off statues of ancient Greek gods. As for the latter, he believed the piercing would make the character more hip.

18. Kilmer and Schumacher had such a difficult time working together on Batman Forever, that the actor committed himself to The Saint as a way of making him unavailable to film Batman & Robin. Schumacher was relieved.

19. Baldwin was considered as replacement yet again, but ultimately, George Clooney was cast to bring a lighter interpretation to the famously dour character. His schedule allowed him to continue working on ER simultaneously with zero conflicts. He would sometimes show up on the set of the NBC medical drama in full costume. 

20. Alicia Silverstone was the first and only choice for Batgirl.

The Dark Knight, 2008

21. Patrick Stewart was originally considered for the role of Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin, so when Arnold Schwarzenegger was ultimately cast, the role was rewritten to accommodate the highly-specific actor. For his co-conspirator Poison Ivy, Demi Moore was originally considered before Schumacher landed on Uma Thurman.

22. When Batman & Robin's poor reception essentially killed the franchise, Clooney famously wrote the film off, calling it "a waste of money."

23. Only two actors appeared in all four of the Burton/Schumacher run of Batman films: Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon and Michael Gough as Alfred.

24. Eight years passed between Batman & Robin's 1997 flop and Christopher Nolan's 2005 reboot of the franchise with Batman Begins. For that film, eight actors auditioned for the lead role: Christian Bale, Joshua Jackson, Eion Bailey, Hugh Dancy, Billy Crudup, Cillian Murphy, Henry Cavill and Jake Gyllenhaal. Part of the process required each of them to read while wearing Kilmer's Batsuit. During casting, Amy Adams served as a reader opposite the men as a favor to the casting director.

The Dark Knight Rises, 2012

25. Katie Holmes' character in Batman Begins, Rachel Dawes, was one of very few not to come from the DC Comics. The role was written specifically for her, with Claire Danes and Reese Witherspoon considered as back-up plans. Holmes decided not to return to the role for 2008's The Dark Knight after criticism that she and Bale had no chemistry, choosing to film Mad Money with Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah instead, allowing for Maggie Gyllenhaal to replace her.

26. Heath Ledger was Nolan's only choice for The Joker in The Dark Knight. When the actor tragically died after completing principal photography on the film, blame for his supposed mental state leading up to the overdose was placed on the dark role, forcing his family to later refute the notion. His posthumous win of Best Supporting Actor that the 2009 Academy Awards was the first major win for a comic book movie ever.

27. As The Scarecrow, Murphy became the first actor in the entire franchise to ever reprise their villain role. He appeared in each film making up Nolan's trilogy. 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2016

28. Tom Hardy accepted the role of Bane in 2012's The Dark Knight Rises without reading a script. He admitted that he had trouble filming fight scenes with Batman because it felt as though he was attacking his childhood hero. The 5'9" actor had to wear three-inch lifts in his shoes while filming to appear as tall or taller than Bale, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman.

29. The Dark Knight Rises was the only Nolan film in the franchise not to get a single Academy Award nomination, and the second overall after Batman & Robin, naturally.

30. Ben Affleck was the first actor approached by director Zach Snyder for his reboot of the character in 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, while Josh Brolin was also spoken to. Affleck later admitted that he was warned by WB to stay off the internet after his casting as the latest iteration of the iconic hero was announced and prepared him for the expected vitriol with examples of old negative reactions to successful superhero casting. Nevertheless, he still went online to see what fans were saying, but upon immediately seeing "Affleck as Batman? NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!" as the first comment on a message board, he logged off.